Running backs breakout against Sooners

Peter Sblendorio

The Oklahoma run game garnered considerable attention going into the Red River Rivalry game.

The Sooners averaged 246 rushing yards per game through their first five contests, good for 17th in the country, and possessed a quartet of players with at least 169 rushing yards. But on Saturday, the Texas ground attack proved to be the far superior unit.

The Longhorns racked up 255 rushing yards, their second-highest total this season, while averaging 4.3 yards per carry. Sophomore running back Johnathan Gray led the way with 128 rushing yards and junior running back Malcolm Brown rushed for 120, marking the first time that two Longhorns gained at least 100 yards on the ground against the Sooners.

“They didn’t miss many holes,” co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite said. “You could see they were sticking the ball in the right place and the line was giving a great push. They played hard, went out and took care of the ball.”

The dynamic play by the running backs paced the offense throughout the game and allowed the Longhorns to sustain a number of lengthy drives. In addition, the potent rushing attack forced Oklahoma to stack the box on defense, opening up the passing game for senior quarterback Case McCoy.

“You can ask any quarterback on any team and they will tell you that if two backs rushed over 100 yards each, they are going to win the ball game and make your job a lot easier,” McCoy said. “So we didn’t really have to do much. We grinded it out at the end — Johnathan played unbelievable and Malcolm played great.”

Maintaining an effective rushing attack could be the key for the Longhorns moving forward. Texas boasts a 3-0 record when rushing for at least 133 yards this season, as opposed to a 1-2 mark when failing to reach that total.

Gray figures to be vital to the Longhorns’ ability to sustain a powerful run game, as he leads the team with 562 yards and four touchdowns. The sophomore led Texas in rushing in each of the past five games, and he credits the Longhorns’ offensive line for his most recent outburst against the Sooners.

“Our offensive line played great,” Gray said. “We know, as any running back does, if your offensive line plays great, you will be able to run the ball.”

Brown seconded this, saying the added devotion to being physical in practice by the running backs and linemen translated to the game against Oklahoma.

“Coaches told us running backs and o-linemen that we’re trying to pound it and we responded well to it,” Brown said. “The offensive line did a great job. We’ve got some good backs that can run the hole and hit it, and they made a huge hole for us.”

Brown’s 120 rushing yards against the Sooners was nearly twice as many as the 63 yards he registered in his first five games. Should he and Gray continue their torrid play, the Texas offense figures to be difficult to stop moving forward.